In the editorial "Act Quickly to Stop Abuse" (Jan. 3), the author describes problems in the child abuse service system that require immediate attention and high priority in next year's county budget discussions.
One major sector of the child abuse service system was not mentioned: the community agencies that provide prevention, education and treatment services to the families referred to them by the county's social workers and courts. It is the job of these agencies to prevent abuse in high-risk families, or stop the recurrence of abuse where it has already happened.
These community agencies contract with the county to provide the types of services that will reduce the incidence of child abuse. The county prefers to contract out for services because the private agencies can deliver services at a lower cost than the public sector.
Just like the social service and judicial systems, the community agencies are not staffed adequately to meet the demand created by the increased number of child abuse reports in San Diego County. At any given time, the agencies have a waiting list of families needing services, even after every attempt is made to refer the families to other resources (that also have waiting lists). Agencies are forced to prioritize the delivery of services by the ages of the children and the severity of the abuse situation.
The result is that many families needing services do not receive them. The families then resurface in the social service system and the courtrooms, and place an even greater demand on these already overtaxed systems. If next year's budget should address the lack of public resources to deal with child abuse, as the author of the editorial proposes, who will have the resources to provide the treatment for the families referred by these social workers, attorneys, etceteras?
To make matters worse in the private sector, the county is now deliberating on proposed cuts to human service agencies, which include the child abuse services provided by private agencies. The county is discussing the diversion of up to $32 million in county discretionary funds to address the problem of jail overcrowding. A major portion of these funds are currently allocated to human services.
Many human services, especially child abuse services, are aimed at preventing the social problems that lead to criminal behavior and the need to incarcerate people. It makes sense to invest more in low-cost human services as a means to prevent jail overcrowding. It makes no sense to divert money away from these services and guarantee a higher crime rate in the future.
LAURA S. SPIEGEL
Home Start Inc.